The Chalk Man – C.J. Tudor

My most serious face. This book doesn’t scare me. Much. At all. Much.

Author: C.J. Tudor

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin imprint)

Where to buy: Amazon UK; Book Depository; Foyles

*scritch…scratch…skritch* slowly, through a tiny cloud of white dust, something appears on the pavement outside your house. Gradually, as the chalk dust settles, the terrifying results appear…a blurb:

“You can feel it in the woods, in the school and in the playground; you can feel it in the houses and at the fairground. You can feel it in most places in the small town of Anderbury . . . the fear that something or someone is watching you. 

It began back in 1986, at the fair, on the day of the accident. That was when twelve-year-old Eddie met Mr Halloran – the Chalk Man.

He gave Eddie the idea for the drawings: a way to leave secret messages for his friends and it was fun, until the chalk men led them to a body.

Thirty years later, Ed believes the past is far behind him, until an envelope slips through the letterbox. It contains a stick of chalk, and a drawing of a figure.

Is history going to repeat itself? 

Was it ever really over? 

Will this game only end in the same way?”

Continue reading “The Chalk Man – C.J. Tudor”

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Close Hauled – Rob Avery

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Author: Rob Avery

Publisher: Jack Tar Publishing

Where to buy: Amazon UK 

Riding the currents as it crosses the deep blue ocean, a school of silver fish darting and hiding within it, a flotsam of blurb drifts:

“Sim Greene has twenty years in the US Navy as a Master-at-Arms. He lives aboard his sailboat, ‘Figaro’, surfs when he likes, and loves a woman who is way out of his league. Assigned to investigate the death of a retired Navy Lieutenant, Sim finds himself tangled in something much larger and far darker than a simple murder.

Soon, the things he loves and the people he cares about are all at risk. One false move and the spider web he’s stumbled into will ruin his life. Or end it.” 

(My thanks to Rob for contacting me and sending me his book to review. And I’m jolly glad he did :)).

Sim Greene is a cool dude. He is so cool that he probably sweats ice cubes. You could  probably use him as a portable fridge in emergencies, strapping food items to him and whatnot. Or stand him in the corner of a particularly hot room. He lives a pretty idyllic life too; living in Southern California, in the sun and on the sea, aboard his little boat ‘Figaro’. Surfing with the dolphins, spear fishing for his dinner and enjoying the company of his friends. Sounds marvellous, doesn’t it? Well, it was, and would have still been, if he hadn’t discovered a body, wrapped in chains and clearly murdered, underneath his boat.

Bummer. Like, major bummer.

Sim is a Master-At-Arms (Military Policeman) in the US Navy who is tasked by his base Commander to investigate the death of our victim, one Barry St James – a retired Naval Lieutenant – and retrieve some Very Important papers in the process. Captain Overson expressly tells Sim that this is to be done on the quiet, the down low, on the hush hush, strictly need to know and all that. Of course, he fails to do this and before long too many people know about the death, and Sim pisses off his CO quite spectacularly, his chances at joining NCIS (the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, for those of you who, like me, don’t watch the telly box much), seriously keel hauled. Despite this setback, and being the determined chap that he is, Sim enlists his old chum, Al, to help him out and the two start to make inroads into the case. Sadly for them the bodies start to rack up and Sim finds himself the prime suspect in their murders. Both Sim and Al are very resourceful in their investigations; their naval training and experience helping greatly. Al can be quite the mercenary, very handy at times, whilst Sim manages to improvise where needed – a particularly ingenious use of a gun, a Pepsi bottle and some duct tape springs to mind.

Along with Sim, Rob has created a group of very believable characters in Close Hauled. I felt that they spoke and interacted naturally without any of the over the top language, cliches and histrionics that can often be found in this type of story. Being a policeman himself, Sim reacts calmly and believably to the regular police’s investigation into him, even though it is clearly obvious he really has nothing to do with the deaths. Sim, Al, Ashley, Monica, Reid and Jessica (whose lost sunglasses kick off the whole thing), are a believable group of friends who like nothing more than to hang out on their boats, catch fish, cook fish and then eat said fish. They’re all likeable folks and are all very well written, with some we get to know better than others.

Close Hauled isn’t what I would call an action packed book; like the ocean itself it can be relatively calm and peaceful but then a large swell rises and shit kicks off before the calm is restored and the next swell approaches. This book is also very atmospheric, with Rob’s love of the sea and sailing coming through loud and clear; you can taste the salt coming off of the pages, almost hear the splash of the water, the gulls in the air (fortunately not their aerial bombardments…). There were some passages that I found hard to follow as they contained lots of nautical or sea faring terminology, but at no point at all did it take me out of the story or force me to skip pages. I suggested to Rob that some sort of glossary may be in order and he actually agreed. I feel that it may make his books more accessible to land lubbers like myself without losing any of the detail he so clearly loves.

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Rob Avery: a very happy chappie 🙂

Close Hauled is a bloody good book. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every sea sprayed, salty page of it. Rob Avery has crafted a wholly believable tale of murder, smuggling and double crossing all set against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. There are two more books in this series – Broad Reach and the forthcoming Dead Downwind – and I’m really looking forward to reading both of them and to see where Sim Greene ends up next.

Highly recommended. 5/5.

The Darkness – Ragnar Jónasson

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Author: Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Victoria Cribb)

Publisher: Penguin Books UK

Where to buy: Amazon UK

From the volcanic lava fields of Iceland, slowly, inexorably grinding its way towards your eyes…a glacier of blurb:

“A young woman is found dead on a remote Icelandic beach.

She came looking for safety, but instead she found a watery grave.

A hasty police investigation determines her death as suicide . . .

When Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police is forced into early retirement, she is told she can investigate one last cold case of her choice – and she knows which one.

What she discovers is far darker than suicide . . . And no one is telling Hulda the whole story.

When her own colleagues try to put the brakes on her investigation, Hulda has just days to discover the truth. A truth she will risk her own life to find.”

There are few things in life that I truly love: I love my kids; I love Queen: I love Laurel and Hardy; I love insects (in an entomological sense, not in some messed up sexy way, just so you know); and I love Icelandic authors and their bloody brilliant Icelandic fiction. I bloody well do, let me tell you! It all began with Analdur Indriðason and his superb Erlender series of books, starting with Jar City. I loved the unfamiliar setting of the book, and the long, unpronounceable words and places. But, armed with Google translate, I slowly got my tongue around them and now I think I’m getting pretty good at pronouncing them. Oh I’m sure any Icelander would piss themselves laughing at my efforts, but I hope I can do them just a little justice. From Analdur I discovered the wonder that is Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, the exciting new author Lilja Sigurðardóttir (also, let’s not forget Quentin Bates and his wonderful Gunnhilder series. Quentin is a British writer, but has translated many of these authors and his books are set in Iceland), and, of course, the star of this review: Ragnar Jónasson. Yaayyyy, go Ragnar…whoop whoop…!!

The Darkness are a UK hard rock band whose breakout song “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” was released in…..oh, hang on…..sorry, that’s not right, bloody Google…..bear with me….ok, let’s start again:

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This is not The Darkness you are looking for. These guys are known for catchy riffs, falsetto vocals, and tongue-in-cheeks lyrics, NOT dark, gritty, compelling Icelandic fiction, like wot Ragnar does. So, now you know.

The Darkness is the first book in a new series from Ragnar featuring his new detective DI Hulda Hermannsdóttir. Called “Hidden Iceland”, this series will stand apart from his more well known “Dark Iceland” books set in the remote northern town of Siglufjörður and featuring Ari Thór. The unusual thing about this series is that it will be told in reverse. That is to say that The Darkness, although being the first book to be released, is actually the final book in the series. The next book, The Island, will be set 25 years earlier, in 1988. Yes, it’s a mindbender, innit? But if this is the first (last) book in the series, I can’t bloody well wait to read the rest. I have to know how Hulda gets to where we see her now.

When we first meet her Hulda is a Detective Inspector at the end of her career. Unfortunately for Hulda, it’s an end that comes rather quicker than she was anticipating as she is forced into early retirement by her superiors, who take on her replacement before she has even cleared her desk. As you can imagine, this takes Hulda totally by surprise and she is forced to take the retirement without any recognition for her years and years of loyal and successful service to the police. She is devastated, her caseload is reassigned, but she manages to convince her boss, Magnús, to let her investigate a cold case of her choosing. Well, this isn’t strictly true, Magnús suggests that she could investigate a cold case to ease his guilt at effectively firing her, but Hulda tells herself that she has his blessing anyway, and begins her investigation into an apparent suicide of a young Russian asylum seeker, Elena.

Hulda is yet another great creation by Ragnar to stand alongside Ari Thór. She’s a clever and very determined woman. She’s faced years of male chauvinism during her career in the police, and has repeatedly hit the glass ceiling that prevents her from gaining the recognition she truly deserves. She has suffered tragedy in her personal life too, but there is a light on the horizon in the form of her friend Pétur, a retired doctor with whom she feels she may have a future with; a chance to be happy once again. Her investigation into the death of Elena isn’t a smooth one though. She begins to uncover errors in the original investigation that shows up her colleagues and superiors, rubbing them up the wrong way in the process. She also oversteps the mark and treads on all the wrong toes as she follows up leads that she really should have checked out beforehand. Then there is an act of misguided kindness that comes back to bite her on her recently retired arse in a big way. Seriously, can this woman catch a break? The answer is no, no she can’t. Ragnar, how can you sleep at night?

The Darkness really is a superior novel and another blinding book from Ragnar. It spins its web expertly, building up the twists and turns, slowly revealing the truth of the sad fate of Elena, before it kicks you in the face with a size ten hobnailed boot and it all comes to a truly unexpected and terrifying climax. Bloody hell, Ragnar.  Now I really  want to know how you can sleep at night 😉 This is no real spoiler, by the way, as every review, by-line and quote has mentioned this. I’m not really a fan of knowing that there is a “shocking twist” or a “sudden and chilling reveal that will leave you reeling” when going into a book (I made those quotes up, btw; they’re not related to this book), but it’s hard to avoid it these days, so I figured that there’s little point in trying to here. Sorry about that. This is possibly the darkest of Ragnar’s novels yet; The Darkness really is a very pertinent and prescient title that works on several layers as you’ll find out (because you are going to read this book. If you aren’t, get the hell outta my blog! Go on…shoo..away with you!). It is quite different in tone to the Dark Iceland series; where Ari’s story starts off with him feeling alone and isolated in Siglufjörður, it ultimately moves forward and his story becomes more positive and there is light on his horizon, whereas with Hulda’s story everything goes to shit for her from one moment to the next, casting a very different tone throughout. The shift in direction just goes to show what a true talent Ragnar truly is. His characters are utterly believable, his plots beautifully structured and unexpected even when you think you know where they are going, and they compel you to want to find out more.

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Ragnar Jónasson: Look at his little face 🙂 He’s from Iceland and he doesn’t appear to be wearing a t-shirt, or a vest. He’ll catch his death, dressed like that. And then what will we read eh? Ragnar? Eh? Yeah, you hadn’t thought of that now, had you!

As I mentioned earlier this series is running backwards. It’s a clever and interesting idea that will shed further light on Hulda and her past. It is going to be fun to see how events in the past shape the woman we think we know and has become at the start of this book. I for one can’t bloody wait to see what Ragnar has in store for Hulda in the future.

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What Doc Brown said 🙂

Highly recommended 5/5

The Bone Keeper – Luca Veste

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Author: Luca Veste

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK

Where to buy: Amazon UK ; Book Depository ; Foyles

 

Watch out, watch out, there’s blurbage about…

“What if the figure that haunted your nightmares as child, the myth of the man in the woods, was real?

He’ll slice your flesh. 
Your bones he’ll keep.

Twenty years ago, four teenagers went exploring in the local woods, trying to find to the supposed home of The Bone Keeper. Only three returned.

Now, a woman is found wandering the streets of Liverpool, horrifically injured, claiming to have fled the Bone Keeper.  Investigating officer DC Louise Henderson must convince sceptical colleagues that this urban myth might be flesh and blood.  But when a body is unearthed in the woodland the woman has fled from, the case takes on a much darker tone.

The disappeared have been found. And their killer is watching every move the police make.”

 

Now, there’s a premise, huh? The Bone Keeper (TBK) is a very, very effective thriller, bordering on outright horror. It is highly unnerving and downright creepy. What if the nightmares of you childhood, the urban myths we have all believed in at some points in our lives, were real? Or perceived to be real? The unspeakable horrors became true?

“The Bone Keeper’s coming.

The Bone Keeper’s real.

He doesn’t stop.

He doesn’t feel.

He’ll snatch you up.

And make you weep.

He’ll slice your flesh.

Your bones he’ll keep.”

As nursery rhymes go, it’s a doozy, isn’t it? What happened to simpler times? Ring a ring o’ roses? Here we go round the mulberry bush? Sing a song of sixpence? Ok, that last one is about baking blackbirds alive in a pie, so maybe not quite such a good example. But then again, nursery rhymes have always had a slightly dark edge to them. Look at poor old Jack and Jill. They only went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, but poor old Jack ended up with  a fractured skull and some quack putting vinegar and brown paper on it. What kind of treatment is that? And we’re supposed to sing this to our children to cheer them up? I suspect that there’s more to this than meets the eye. Maybe Jill was a jealous girl, and shoved poor old Jack down the hill and then tried to cover her tracks? Or maybe Jack tried to push Jill down the well and she defended herself and he got his just desserts? Either way, suspicious shit if you ask me.

Anyway, the point here is that we all have versions of urban myths that we have heard as kids. I grew up next to a large Victorian psychiatric institution (or Asylum, as the hidden plaque next to the door proclaimed). I grew up hearing tales of murderers and “kiddie fiddlers”, as the grown-ups called them, walking the streets around us. Of children going missing and of the ‘patients’ as they were then called, turning up dead in the gravel pits near by (this last one was to keep us from suffering the same fate of course). Eventually I went to work there and of course I discovered that none of this was true, but we created our own monsters from these ill informed and bigoted opinions of the mentally ill. Some of the men that I grew up petrified of turned out to be some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Parents, tch.

The Bone Keeper takes the idea of what if these urban myths turned out to be true? Is TBK a supernatural being, haunting and preying upon the people of Liverpool, or is it a copycat, someone taking on the persona, making the myth real? Or is it a combination of the two? Enter our two protagonists: DS Paul Shipley and DC Louise Henderson. They find themselves embroiled (that’s a great word isn’t it? Embroiled. Say it like Kenneth Williams…embrrrrroiled….and it sounds even better, as many words do when said in a Kenneth Williams stylee.), in a series of gruesome discoveries after a woman, beaten up and bloody, turns up in a high street screaming about The Bone Keeper. It would appear on the surface that TBK is indeed a real thing, as the bodies start to pile up and uncomfortable memories and revelations begin to surface for DC Henderson.

Shipley and Henderson themselves were likeable characters. Shipley’s initial scepticism of the Bone Keeper story gradually gives way to a kind of “what if” mentality. He never fully believes it, but the cracks in his resolve begin to appear. Henderson is pretty much the opposite. She wants to believe the stories are true, befriending the only survivor, Caroline, to try to get to the truth, and, as mentioned earlier, uncovering some uncomfortable, personal truths along the way.

The Bone Keeper is set in Veste’s home city of Liverpool. My dad is from Liverpool and although he left as a young boy I still have family there, so I recognised many of the places described here. Melling, where our story starts, was a particular delight as that is where my paternal grandmother was from. I hadn’t been there since I was a teeny, tiny, beardless boy, but I couldn’t help but have a little smile when I read that. But anyway, it was a refreshing change to read a story set away from the usual, familiar London setting.

The Bone Keeper is a great read; best read with the lights down low on a dark and stormy night. Or you could just turn on the garden sprinkler, aim it at your windows, close the curtains and you’ll get pretty much the same effect, I guess. It’s a proper page turner, especially as things start to accelerate towards the conclusion. A conclusion of which, no spoilers, was very satisfying – to me, at least.

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Mr. Veste. Apparently standing on the River Mersey itself. He can do that, you can’t, so don’t try this at home kids!

In The Bone Keeper, Luca Veste has constructed a tense, chilling and compelling story; utilising childhood fears of abandonment, missing children and dark and scary places, to great effect. A book well worth spending time with.

 

Highly recommended. 5/5.

Covers glorious covers: a gibbering appreciation.

Over the last week or so there have been several cover reveals for some very exciting forthcoming books. I thought I would share them again here, along with their original sources, just to feel a little bit of the excitement myself. I don’t want to be left out you know 😉 Do check out the links to the original posts.

So, in no particular order:

First up we have the cover for Michael J Malones “After He Died”. Revealed on Chapterinmylife’s blog (original post here ; Twitter here), book published by Orenda Books.

Have some blurb:

“You need to know who your husband really was… When Paula Gadd’s husband of almost thirty years dies, just days away from the seventh anniversary of their son, Christopher’s death, her world falls apart. Grieving and bereft, she is stunned when a young woman approaches her at the funeral service, and slips something into her pocket. A note suggesting that Paula’s husband was not all that he seemed… When the two women eventually meet, a series of revelations challenges everything Paula thought they knew, and it becomes immediately clear that both women’s lives are in very real danger. Both a dark, twisty slice of domestic noir and taut, explosive psychological thriller, After He Died is also a chilling reminder that the people we think we know most can harbour the deadliest secrets…”

And here is the gorgeous cover:

Isn’t that a pip? I love the stylistic link to Michael’s other two books – A Suitable Lie and House Of Spines – with the circle of flowers resembling the wedding ring in ASL and the lift floor indicator on HoS. Yet another clever design by Kid-ethic (aka Mark Swan).

Next up we have In Bloom by CJ Skuse; published by HQ Stories/Harper Collins.

This is the sequel to the brilliant Sweet Pea (my review here) and was revealed on CJ’s Twitter:

Blurbage (BE WARNED: spoilers for ‘Sweet Pea’ lie within….)

“Darkly comic crime sequel to Sweetpea, following girl-next-door serial killer Rhiannon as she’s now caught between the urge to kill and her unborn baby stopping her.

If only they knew the real truth. It should be my face on those front pages. My headlines. I did those things, not him. I just want to stand on that doorstep and scream it: IT WAS ME. ME. ME. ME. ME!

Rhiannon Lewis has successfully fooled the world and framed her cheating fiancé Craig for the depraved and bloody killing spree she committed. She should be ecstatic that she’s free.

Except for one small problem. She’s pregnant with her ex lover’s child. The ex-lover she only recently chopped up and buried in her in-laws garden. And as much as Rhiannon wants to continue making her way through her kill lists, a small voice inside is trying to make her stop.

But can a killer’s urges ever really be curbed?”

A stunning cover indeed. I love the colours on this one. I don’t know who the designer is for this, but I’ll be happy to edit if anyone can let me know.

Finally, we have the cover reveal for Louise Beech’s “The Lion Tamer Who Lost”, published by Orenda Books. This was revealed on mychestnutreadingtree (original post here; Twitter here)

Blurrrrrrrb:

“Long ago Andrew made a childhood wish. One he has always kept in a silver box with a too-big lid that falls off. When it finally comes true, he wishes it hadn’t…

Long ago Ben dreamt of going to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. When he finally goes there, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…

Ben and Andrew keep meeting where they least expect. Some collisions are by design, but are they for a reason? Ben’s father would disown him for his relationship with Andrew, so they must hide it. Andrew is determined to make things work, but secrets from his past threaten to ruin everything…

Ben escapes to Zimbabwe to fulfil his lifelong ambition. But will he ever return to England? To Andrew?

To the truth?

A dark and poignant drama, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a mesmerisingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart…”

And here is the cover:

Another stunner from Kid-Ethic and Orenda. Jesus, these guys know how to do covers. If you know me then you know that I LOVE Louise’s books. I am beyond moist for this one. I need a paper bag to stop my hyperventilation…….

That’s it for now. I couldn’t help but join in and share these beauties. I hope I haven’t trodden on any toes by doing so. If I have then please let me know and I shall edit/remove/credit anything accordingly.

Peace and Book Love.

TBBB X

Wild Chamber – Christopher Fowler

Bearded idiot inhaling the sweet, sweet scent of a freshly printed new Christopher Fowler book. 

Author: Christopher Fowler

Publisher: Bantam Books (Random House imprint)

Where To Buy: Amazon UK ; Book Depository ; Foyles

The most blurbing of blurb:

“Our story begins at the end of an investigation, as the members of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit race to catch a killer near London Bridge Station in the rain, not realising that they’re about to cause a bizarre accident just yards away from the crime scene. And it will have repercussions for them all…

One year later, in an exclusive London crescent, a woman walks her dog – but she’s being watched. When she’s found dead, the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to investigate. Why? Because the method of death is odd, the gardens are locked, the killer had no way in – or out – and the dog has disappeared.

So a typical case for Bryant & May. But the hows and whys of the murder are not the only mysteries surrounding the dead woman – there’s a missing husband and a lost nanny to puzzle over too. And it seems very like that the killer is preparing to strike again.

As Arthur Bryant delves in to the history of London’s ‘wild chambers’ – its extraordinary parks and gardens, John May and the rest of the team seem to have caused a national scandal. If no-one is safe then all of London’s open spaces must be closed…

With the PCU placed under house arrest, only Arthur Bryant remains at liberty – but can a hallucinating old codger catch the criminal and save the unit before it’s too late?”

Wild Chamber is the 14th in the Bryant and May series of books. How many?, I hear you cry, or is that the neighbours arguing again? This may be of some surprise to many of you, but Christopher Fowler is one of UK literature’s best kept secrets. I don’t want to harp on about how he is the best selling author you have never heard of, but the fact remains that he is. I first discovered him within the pages of the long defunct and brilliant Fear magazine. They ran an interview with him (which I still have but cannot lay my hands on right now), about his upcoming debut novel Roofworld (pub 1988). The idea of a secret civilisation gadding about upon the rooftops of London was too intriguing to resist, so I bought it, bloody loved it, and a life-long Fan of Fowler was begat. That was 30 years ago: 46 books/short story collections/2 memoirs/1 graphic novel later and people still say “who?” when you mention his name. Fucking atrocity, imo.

An issue of the superb Fear. It covered film, tv and books in the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genres. The cover art was usually provided by the great Oliver Fry, though he was later replaced by photographic covers in later issues.

Anyway, let’s get to the current book. Bryant And May first appeared waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in Chris’s 2nd novel, Rune. They continued to pop up in his books when required (Soho Black springs to mind), but it wasn’t until Full Dark House that the two elderly detectives fell into their own series and became the detectives that we now know and, if you’ve any sense at all, love (and if you haven’t any sense, nip out, get some – there’s a sale online – then come back). John May and Arthur Bryant are two elderly detectives (their age is a bit hazy; the books are actually the memoirs of Arthur, and as such, the facts are a slightly moveable feast), who work for London’s Peculiar Crime Unit (PCU) – a specialist unit working within London’s Metropolitan Police Service, but also have some independence from it: “…a division founded during the Second World War to investigate cases that could cause national scandal or public unrest”. The unit is constantly under the threat of being closed down by bureaucrats in the Home Office, but, so far, they always scrape by by the skin of their dentures.

Arthur Bryant (left) and John May as visualised by Keith Page for the Casebook Of Bryant & May graphic novel.  (art (c) Keith Page and Christopher Fowler)

In Wild Chamber, the two detectives and the rest of the PCU, investigate a series of murders that are committed within London’s parks, the acts of which threatens to close them down. The Home Office Liaison Officer and long-time adversary of the PCU, the odious Leslie Faraday, sees this as an opportunity to finally shut down the PCU once and for all; blaming the them for the park’s closures and setting the public against them. Will it work? Will the PCU finally be closed down for good? Pish, you’ll have to read the book to find that out for yourselves.

The Bryant and May books are truly a love letter to London. In all of the books (with the possible exception, off of the top of my head, of White Corridor), the city of London is as much a character as the members of the PCU themselves. Chris always imbibes these books with the rich, millenia old history of London, intricately linking his plots to it. Whether it is the ancient, forgotten rivers, the Thames itself, its pubs, theatres, ancient societies, hidden people, or highwaymen; they are all beautifully woven into the crimes that Arthur and John investigate over the course of the series. In this book, it is London’s parks and green spaces that are brought to the forefront, with Chris weaving social comment and their history throughout the narrative. To aid the PCU in their hunt for the perpetrators of the crimes, Chris has created a rich set of peripheral characters that Arthur in particular often calls upon, much to the chagrin of the rest of the PCU: There’s the wonderful and, um, quirky, white witch Maggie Armitage, and heavy metal loving English Professor Raymond Kirkpatrick to name two, both possessing arcane and highly specialist knowledge that in a very roundabout way often help the PCU to, eventually, solve their crimes. Due to complications with Arthur’s recovery from illness (see the previous two books), we even have guest appearances from Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys and the Queen herself. Don’t worry, it isn’t quite as weird as it sounds. Ok, it is as weird as it sounds, but once you become familiar with Arthur Bryant, it really isn’t! Arthur himself is a wonderful, wonderful character; erudite, complicated, prone to calamity and destroying anything technological that he comes into contact with (seriously, don’t let him near anyone with a pacemaker). His long term, and long suffering, partner is the sophisticated, handsome, charming and techno-safe, John May. Meeting up way back in the 1940’s, they have been pretty much inseparable ever since, keeping London safe without the public ever really being aware of it.

The rest of the PCU are just as wonderful; these books truly are an ensemble piece. We have series regulars Janice Longbright, Raymond Land, Colin Bimsley, Meera Mangeshkar, Jack Renfield, Dan Banbury and Giles Kershaw, all of whom over the course of the books have their time in the limelight and are invaluable to the Unit’s successes (and rare failures).

I’m finding it hard to keep this review to just this book and to not have it become an appreciation of all things Christopher Fowler. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; he is a truly outstanding author with a rich back catalogue that you really should go back and read (they are all available as eBooks now), but maybe I’ll reserve that for a future blog post.

As for Wild Chamber, I strongly recommend, no, I insist that you read it. If you have never read a B&M book before then this is a most excellent start. Although these books are obviously a series there is no real requirement to read them all in order (with the exception of ‘On The Loose’ and ‘Off The Rails’, which should), but as with all series, in my opinion, you get a better experience from doing so. Some of his characters from his earlier works – DI Ian Hargreaves and DS Gladys Longbright, from Roofworld and other earlier books, for instance – have strong links to the current characters and the unit, but you wouldn’t know that unless you have been with Chris for a while. Being a long term reader of Chris’s works really is quite rewarding as he often chucks in little throwbacks to earlier, unrelated, novels. The Leicester Square Vampire was a longstanding case until the B&M series finally put it to rest.

The man himself: Christopher Fowler. Cool as a cucumber on dry ice, in winter, in the freezer, with the door open, at the North Pole.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and discover the world and works of Christopher Fowler. As for the Bryant and May books, they are dramatic, clever, educational, wonderfully plotted, very funny and exquisite works of fiction. What more could you want?

5/5 (RidicuRating(™) 1000/5 for the series so far)

Hydra – Matt Wesolowski

Hydra cover

Author: Matt Wesolowski

Publisher: Orenda Books

Where to buy: Amazon UK ; Book Depository ; Foyles

The blurbage:

“A family massacre
A deluded murderess
Five witnesses
Six Stories
Which one is true?

One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the northwest of England, 21-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, stepfather and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the Macleod Massacre. Now incarcerated at a medium-security mental-health institution, Arla will speak to no one but Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an internet sensation.

King finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex case, interviewing five key witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was as diminished as her legal team made out.

As he unpicks the stories, he finds himself thrust into a world of deadly forbidden ‘games’, online trolls, and the mysterious black-eyed kids, whose presence seems to extend far beyond the delusions of a murderess…

Dark, chilling and gripping, Hydra is both a classic murder mystery and an up-to-the-minute, startling thriller that shines light in places you may never, ever want to see again.”

Hydra is a truly stunning book; from the gorgeous cover that screams “Oy, you there! Yes you, don’t think you can ignore me. Come over here and pick me up! Read my blurb, dammit! Now, take me to the till! Go, on. Put me in your bag, go home, and now read me from cover to cover and don’t stop until you’ve finished me!” to the very last page. This is a book that will linger on in your mind long after you’ve put it down (and then picked it up again to stroke it lovingly and whisper sweet nothings into it’s leaves).

Hydra is a prequel of sorts to Matt’s equally brilliant debut “Six Stories” (don’t take my word for it; read it for yourself and bathe in its magnificence). It isn’t a sequel-prequel, you won’t have needed to read either book for it to make sense, but it is set in that same universe, where Scott King presents another case in his Six Stories podcast series. This is a wonderful format; each case is presented as a series of six episodes, with each episode featuring a witness in some way to the events under discussion linked by Scott’s own thoughts and asides. The beauty of this format is that you are rarely sure of who is telling the truth. Matt excels in this area; he is a brilliantly clever and skilled author who gives each character their own unique voice, giving each one enough to link them together, but also enough to doubt their credibility, motivation or reliability throughout. There were times during this book where I was so angry at some of the character’s actions and their justifications for those actions. You can tell that they, for the most part, harbour deep regrets and guilt about what happened, but they also frustrate about their reluctance to open up, admit their compliance and they often appear more worried about their own reputations. This a true testament to the great writing to make you feel this way (if indeed you will feel the same way of course ;))

This book is also shit your pants scary at times. I would suggest that you read this book on the toilet, or maybe whilst wearing a nappy. Yes you’ll look silly, but better to look silly than to have others looking weirdly at you whilst sat in your own feculence. You’ll thank me later 🙂 One of the reasons for this are the B.E.K.s – Black-Eyed Kids. The less said about them here the better – you’ll become acquainted well enough 😉 This whole story is disturbingly creepy in many ways, but Matt’s descriptions, or should that be Arla’s descriptions?, of the B.E.K.s are truly chilling. As for Arla Macleod herself, she is a truly complicated, and even sympathetic, character indeed. Hydra isn’t a Whodunnit, as Six Stories was, but a Whydunnit – the ridiculously clever podcast narrative giving you the evidence to decide what Arla’s motivations for killing her family were and whether you find, or don’t find, any sympathy with her.

o-BLACK-EYED-CHILD-facebook
BOO! I see you….. A B.E.K. – possibly.

This is a thoroughly modern horror story. Psychological/internet manipulation, mental illness, child mental and physical abuse and internet trolling/cyber abuse; all highly pertinent and current issues. It deals with the devastating effects of covering up or ignoring the past, of being made to feel ashamed, unwanted and worthless, of protecting reputation, of being (perceived as) second best.

matt web
Matt Wesolowski – now there’s a casually cool bastard, right there 🙂

Matt Wesolowski is a true talent (and another Orenda Books success story), and one who deserves every success that will undoubtedly be coming his way. Hydra (and Six Stories before it), is a complicated, disturbing, richly detailed and emotional book. The next few months and years are going to be a very exciting time for Mr. Wesolowski, and for us, the reader, too. I can’t wait.

Highly recommended. 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 50/5)

February 2018 Book Reads.

Hello my wonderful beardy blog readers and welcome to my list of February books. Once again I’m pretty amazed at how many books I have read this month. Clearly I have nothing better to do, but I’m good with that 😉

Let me know what you think if you read any of them, or if you plan to. I’ll link to any review I’ve written in the title.

  1. Scarred – Thomas Enger (Faber and Faber) 5/5

Scarred by [Enger, Thomas]

2. Sweet Pea – CJ Skuse (HQ) 5/5

Sweetpea: The most unique and gripping thriller of 2017 by [Skuse, C.J.]

3. The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (Raven Press) 5/5

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by [Turton, Stuart]

4. Cursed – Thomas Enger (Orenda Books) 5/5

Cursed (Henning Juul) by [Enger, Thomas]

5. Killed – Thomas Enger (Orenda Books) 5/5

Killed (Henning Juul) by [Enger, Thomas]

6. When The Serpent Bites – Nesly Clerge (self published) 5/5

When The Serpent Bites (The Starks Trilogy Book 1) by [Clerge, Nesly]

7. Deep Blue Trouble – Steph Broadribb (Orenda Books) 5/5

Deep Blue Trouble (Lori Anderson) by [Broadribb, Steph]

Block 46 – Johanna Gustawsson

 

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Author: Johanna Gustawsson

Publisher: Orenda Books

Where to buy: Amazon UK ; Book Depository; Foyles

Wow! WowowowowowowowowWOW! Where do I even begin with this stunning book? It’s going to be nigh on impossible to review this beauty without spoiling it all, so you’ll just buy it and discover it for yourselves. But until you do, here’ s the blurb:

“Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Ebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.”

Now, if that doesn’t pique your interest then you seriously need to reassess your views on crime fiction.

Block 46 takes place across two timelines: 1945 – present, and the present. I’ve made that sound slightly more confusing than it is, but it really isn’t. As you can see from the blurb above, a young, talented designer Linnea Blix is murdered and her friend Alexis Castells, a true crime writer finds herself in the hunt for her killer. Along the way she reunites with Canadian profiler, Emily Roy, who is called in to investigate the murders of several children in London. The pair had met previously whilst Alexis was researching a book about Fred and Rosemary West, as you do, Together they form a partnership of sorts in the hunt for the murderer that spans both London and Sweden. You can figure out the rest from the blurb.

Both Alexis and Emily are very strong characters. Alexis’s life is turned upside down after the murder of her friend. She is still recovering from the death of her partner some years before, and is a slightly closed book emotionally. Emily Roy is an exceptionally talented and perceptive profiler, on loan to New Scotland Yard in London from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. What I love about her is that although she is a skilled and remarkable profiler, she is also flawed; she overlooks details in her over-assuredness. Basically, she fucks up. Not in any huge way, but enough. She’s aloof and lacks some basic personal and social skills when in the throes of her profiling, but also displays empathy and kindness with the friends and relatives of the victims when required.

Block 46 is not an easy read at all. Emotionally it packs one hell of a punch. Mike Tyson levels of punch. This is a book that will stay with you long after you have closed the final page, put it on the shelf, sat down, had a drink, hugged a loved one, done the weekly shopping and, yes, even had a little poo (or any other bodily function – I’ll leave that one up to you). Jo (and through her translator Maxim Jakubowski), manages to create whole passages that frankly repelled me to my core. The antagonist/s in this story are thoroughly repellent individuals. There are parallels in this book, both in tone and in the profiler protagonist, with Jacqueline Chadwick’s Ali Dalglish series, particularly In The Still (my review here). Not in terms of story, but most certainly in terms of the revulsion that the perpetrators of the crimes detailed instilled in me. I didn’t think I’d read a book that was so thoroughly disgusting in its acts as In The Still, well, I was wrong there! This isn’t criticism at all; it is a true testimony to the skills of both writers that they can create words and situations that evoke such feelings in a reader.

Some of the most disturbing moments in this book though come from the events detailed during the war years in the the Buchenwald concentration camp. Of course, the characters here, Erich Ebner and his fellow prisoners, are fictitious, but the main staff of the camp and the atrocities that they committed there most certainly were not. Stories like these often resonate more, I feel, with people of my generation, as we quite often have relatives who witnessed the war, and in some cases, the horrors of the concentration camps first hand. My own paternal grandfather Harry, who I never knew – he died at the very young age of 59, several years before I was born – was one of the first troops to enter Belsen at its liberation. From what I understand he never spoke of what he saw there, but this book has sparked my interest to maybe try to find out. Sadly, there are very few relatives of his generation still with us – my grandma died when I was 9 – but I may try to discover what he witnessed there some day. In the book, the horrors, beatings, and downright degradation meted out to Erich, and to his fellow prisoners during their time at Buchenwald, make you wonder how anyone ever survived and went on to live their lives in a relatively normal way in the post-war years.

Once again, this is a book that is best left for the reader to discover for themselves. To say any more about Erich’s story, or of the investigation in to the crimes committed here, is to truly spoil the joy of this utterly remarkable book. Jo has crafted a novel of exceptional depth, character and emotional resonance that should be enjoyed and discovered as spoiler free as possible. Jo doesn’t waste her words; she never lingers more than necessary to describe the scene or to convey the emotions of the characters. In fact so much so that as the end of the book approached I thought that we were going to be left with a cliffhanger into her next book, Keeper! It’s no spoiler to say that this isn’t the case though, and it’s also no spoiler to say that the finale is truly wonderful. The last part of the book thunders along to it’s conclusion, resolving in a highly emotional and most satisfying way, to me at least.

Confession time: I read the last 100 pages or so if this in the pub. As a single chap, and a rather unsocial one at that, I rarely ever go to the pub alone; I feel like a bit of a gooseberry sitting there all alone with a pint and no-one to chat to, but recently I’ve decided that I need to shake off this feeling and get out more. So, short story long, off to my local ‘spoons I went for breakfast and to read. Why, I hear you cry in despair, the bloody hell am I telling you all this for? Good point, well, as I read the last few pages and closed the book, I had tears in my eyes. Yes, not only was I feeling slightly silly for sitting all alone surrounded by families, couples, friends, etc, but I was sitting there all alone blubbing like a fool, ha! But they were tears of immense joy; of huge satisfaction of being part of something so bloody brilliant. I doubt anybody actually noticed of course, but I had to compose myself and have a few larger than anticipated mouthfuls of Doom Bar to stabilise myself 😉 There really aren’t many books that have this effect on me. Yes, there are books that I love unconditionally, but few that move me to tears for whatever the reason (except any book, especially How To Be Brave, by Louise Beech)

It comes as no surprise at all to know that this is yet another Orenda Books success story. Karen Sullivan, Queen Bee of Orenda, is an extraordinarily perceptive publisher. I have no affiliation to Orenda at all, but without their books, my current love of reading outstanding crime fiction, and from there discovering other books/authors from other publishing houses, simply wouldn’t exist. I thank you Karen, sincerely from the very bottom of my beardy book loving heart.

Image result for jo gustawsson
This Jo Gustawsson: I mean, look at her! How on earth can that beautiful, innocent head dream up such atrocious ideas? Answers on a postcard please.

I think I’ve maybe said enough now, don’t you 🙂 All that is left to say is buy this book! Savour every page and then buy her next book, Keeper (this is already out in eBook – buy it here – but I’ve ordered the paperback, out in April, so I can shelve it and look at it lovingly. Maybe I’ll hug it, too.)

Highly, highly recommeded.

 

January 2018 book reads.

Hi Beardy Book Blog Chums.

I’ve decided to post a monthly update of the books wot I read. This is partly to bore the arse off of you all; partly because that’s what book bloggers do; partly to keep track of the books I’ve read; and partly because see the previous three partlys, in case you have already fallen into a coma and have just come around after reading the first two partlys.

Writing this list I’ve really surprised myself as to how many books I’ve read in January alone. I’m quite astonished, if I’m honest.

So, without further ado, or adon’t, here, in no particular order, is the rundown for January 2018 (links in titles where I’ve written one):

  1. In The Still – Jacqueline Chadwick (Fahrenheit Press) 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 30/5)

2. Pierced – Thomas Enger (Faber and Faber) 4/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 10/5 (50/5 for the series))

3. Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman 4/5

4. Hydra – Matt Wesolowski (Orenda Books) 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 60/5)

5. Briefly Maiden – Jacqueline Chadwick (Fahrenheit Press) 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 30/5)

6. Unbroken – Madeline Black 5/5

7. The Mine – Antti Tuomainen (Orenda Books) 4/5

 

8. Deep Down Dead – Steph Broadribb (Orenda Books) 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 20/5)

Tiny Steph appreciation photo 🙂

 

 

9. A Suitable Lie – Michael J Malone (Orenda Books) 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 60/5)